Empowering Connections: The Rising Role of Women in Telecommunications 

Women’s History Month is the perfect time to spotlight the often-unsung heroines who have shaped our modern telecommunications landscape. As is nearly always the case within rapidly evolving fields, small businesses have emerged as hotbeds of telecom innovation and opportunity, and women have played a crucial role in propelling this extraordinary progress.  

Today, we examine the inspiring stories of four female telecommunications professionals at one such company: Netmaker Communications, a small, FCC-registered telephone company in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. As they solve customers’ hardware and software problems, configure and administer complex customer networks, and hover as sentinels in the dark world of cybersecurity, these women are central to Netmaker Communications’ growing prominence within the industry. 

Ashley Litaker, Systems Administrator/VoIP Engineer

Ashley Litaker plans, designs, configures, and deploys the networked systems that form the basis of Netmaker Communications’ commercial operation. With years of experience in numerous telecommunications technologies, Ashley sits at the nexus between Netmaker Communications’ services and its clients, troubleshooting problems and preparing the launch of new systems. To say that her work hours are long would be an understatement. Ashley is also the mother of four children, two teenagers and two infants—enough to strain the inner resources of anyone. Sleep, needless to say, is a rare luxury for her. Ashley works remotely when possible—a near necessity for someone who essentially lives two full-time lives simultaneously—which can present its own, often hilarious challenges.

“I was showing a demonstration to a potential customer over Teams,” she explains, “And my bird would not stop squawking in the background. So, I turned and yelled at him at the top of my lungs, thinking I had muted my microphone. But no, I had not. After my screaming, the awkward silence from everyone else on the call was deafening.”

Ashley faces the hurdles of being a woman in a predominantly male field with an understated, good-natured equanimity: “At first, I didn’t realize the challenges that would come with being a woman in a male-dominated field. On the one hand, you must work harder to prove you can do the work, but on the other hand … #girlpower!”

Ashley also recently earned a bachelor’s degree in information technology, graduating Summa cum laude. “I hope to set an example for my girls that they can do anything. They can be anything.”

Nichole Johnson, Systems Administrator/ Computer Science Engineer

Nichole Johnson has six children, three of them still living at home. She is also Netmaker Communications’ resident computer science engineer, with two decades of experience in topics ranging from network installation to automated software management and end-user support. Nichole works closely with Ashley to configure and prepare the elaborate Voce-over IP (VoIP) systems that constitute the primary elements of many of the services the company provides. She also assists customers in resolving any problems they’re experiencing with their systems.

Beneath Nichole’s quiet demeanor and extraordinary patience lies a keen and capable mind possessing exceptional technical acumen. A self-professed night owl and workaholic, her sleep schedule would be unsustainable for most of us—particularly with three children to care for. Nichole’s primary motivation for entering the male-dominated field of telecommunications was her children, and she’s never regretted taking the leap. “Being a mother of six, I wanted to be able to provide for my children and make sure they had a comfortable life. Getting a job in high technology almost 20 years ago was the best decision I ever made.”

As Nichole reflects on her time at the firm, it’s clear she’s pleased with her decision to come aboard.

“Working at Netmaker Communications has allowed me to keep expanding my knowledge of the constant changes occurring within the Telecom technology infrastructure,” she says. “I love learning new things, and Netmaker Communications offers me constant challenges to develop and expand my familiarity with the technology’s leading edge.”

Nena Dodson, Senior Telecommunications Engineer

Nena Dodson is among Netmaker Communications’ most important engineers, directly involved in creating complex network structures and managing the company’s data within the core infrastructure of the Netmaker Communications network.

Her work is of the highest importance, and the price for complacency or sloppiness could run into the millions of dollars. Nena’s position at Netmaker Communications is based on her 20-year career in the telecommunications field; she is an expert in communications protocols, network and system administration, and other technical subjects too numerous to mention. Her work week often exceeds 60 hours.

When she first entered the telecommunications field, Nena refused to let anything keep her from charging headlong toward her goals. “I always felt that I had to work harder, be faster, be earlier, stay later, and volunteer more than anyone else. I didn’t see gender,” she adds, “I just wanted to be the best engineer in the office. Everyone saw that, which is why I landed the positions I wanted.”

Carmen Thayer, Junior Cybersecurity Analyst

Carmen Thayer is the newest addition to Netmaker Communications’ team of women serving in telecommunications roles. She started as a summer intern in the cybersecurity department, impressing everyone with her work ethic, and ability to quickly master new tasks.

Then, Netmaker Communications’ director of cybersecurity abruptly left the organization, leaving a critical gap in the company’s cybersecurity capabilities.

Anxious to ensure its cybersecurity functions remained operational, Netmaker Communications asked Carmen if she would like to transition from intern to employee. Carmen agreed, becoming a junior cybersecurity analyst and, simultaneously, the highest-ranking cybersecurity specialist in the company.

The sudden change in status came as a shock to Carmen, who had previously worked as an ice cream vendor: “Nerve-wracking. I am very much aware of my limitations, gaps in knowledge, and areas I need to work on. I like to consider that awareness a strength,” she says, “But I wasn’t expecting a trial-by-fire situation, and while I’m still nervous, I’m not going to back down. I’m lucky and excited to be here.”

When asked about the unique challenges women face in the telecommunications field, Carmen offers a fascinating perspective: “While my sex affects other’s perceptions of me, it does not affect how a computer or firewall will react, and those are the things I care about. I had no say in how I was born, but I can work and grow and improve my skills. I’m not an expert yet, but I’m going to put in the work to become one.”

How does she feel about starting her cybersecurity career at Netmaker Communications?

“I’m grateful and excited. I’ll be a great Cybermancer someday.”